In the beginning, there was fan fiction: from the four gospels to Fifty Shades

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News Media Commentary
Title: In the beginning, there was fan fiction: from the four gospels to Fifty Shades
Commentator: Ewan Morrison
Date(s): August 13, 2012
Venue: online
Fandom:
External Links: In the beginning, there was fan fiction: from the four gospels to Fifty Shades, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

In the beginning, there was fan fiction: from the four gospels to Fifty Shades is an article by Ewan Morrison for "The Guardian."

It has the header: "EL James's Fifty Shades of Grey originated as a piece of fanfic based on the Twilight series. So is fan fiction something to be feared? And where did it all begin?"

The article includes some fan art, including one piece by an unnamed artist for Desert Heat with the credit "in the public domain," which it probably isn't. [1]

The author of this article includes such descriptions of fanfic as "aesthetically bankrupt," "incomprehensible mess," and "convoluted, meaningless."

Topics Discussed

Excerpts

If you were to lock a group of pop culture junkies and TV addicts in a bunker, tell them that the end of the world had arrived and that they had to preserve culture for posterity by writing books, what they would produce would be fan fiction (fanfic). This is actually the plot of a piece of fanfic from the 1950s, in which sci-fi fans survive Armageddon and rebuild civilisation in their own image. It may seem like a joke, but for many the rise of fanfic is "the end of the world". Fanfic is seen as the lowest point we've reached in the history of culture – it's crass, sycophantic, celebrity-obsessed, naive, badly written, derivative, consumerist, unoriginal – anti-original. From this perspective it's a disaster when a work of fanfic becomes the world's number one bestseller and kickstarts a global trend.
Folklore fanfic: If one sees fanfic as "the work of amateurs retelling existing stories", then one would have to conclude that the number one book in the middle ages – the Bible – was a work of fanfic, as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were non-professionals retelling the same story about the same character. However, such a definition of fanfic is skewed historically. There were no fans in the middle ages, and there were also no authors.
In the 1920s, fans of Conan Doyle started Sherlock Holmes societies in London and New York, at which they debated issues such as the question of whether Holmes's addiction to cocaine was beneficial to his perception or a sign of moral weakness. They also produced the Baker Street Journal, a hybrid zine, halfway between scholarly research and pure fandom and at gatherings read their own versions of stories they'd written themselves. The most notable works are examples of self-insert fic – in which the writer meets their hero. Examples include: My First Meeting with Sherlock Holmes by Ellery Queen and Sherlock Holmes in the White House by Roosevelt. Roosevelt in this case was not the then President, so this was also real person fic – in which a fan writes about politicians, sports celebrities, musicians, film stars etc, as if they are known to them – with self-insert. When the self-insert character is the author thinly disguised this is called Mary Sue fic. Mary Sues are usually flawless characters who outshine the famous characters they are placed beside. In 1973, one Paula Smith wrote an infamous fanzine short story: A Trekkies Tale in which the Starship Enterprise was visited by someone called Paula [2] – a stunning woman who all the crew fell for. By the late 1980s there had been a glut of Mary Sues fictionally beaming themselves up on to the Starship Enterprise, and true fans started to view the sub-genre plots as insidious. Interestingly, by outshining the heroes Mary Sues reveal a lurking contempt on behalf of their fan writers towards the original characters.
With the growth of television in the 50s fanfic spread globally. [3] Sci-fi fanfic then morphed and its subtexts became dominant. Slash fic is sub-genre in which buddies from classic TV become gay lovers. The first slash fic novel to be published was The Ring of Soshern, [4] as a single story in a fiction and art anthology called Alien Brothers in 1987. </ref> a 105-pager [5]by Jennifer Guttridge (1968). [6] In it Spock and Kirk find themselves stranded on a remote, deserted [7]planet. Spock goes into the state of "Pon Far" [8]: the violent "on heat" fever that comes to Vulcans, during which they must "have sex or die". To save Spock's life Kirk allows Spock to penetrate him, the two then fall in love and "spend all their remaining days on the planet exploiting both the planet and each other's bodies". [9]
There is a dark sexual undercurrent to the majority of fanfic, as if on a subconscious level the fan actually resents the control that their idol or idealised character has over their life. Through the act of writing fanfic, and subjecting characters to compulsive or vengeful love, sex, S&M or rape, the fan then regains control. [10]
The most postmodern and aesthetically bankrupt of all fanfic, is when two well-known franchises from the same genre are "crossed over". So you get BattleStar Gallactica [11], crossed with Star Trek, which results in the story: Star Trek: Way of the Battlestar – author Carson Napier.
There are literally millions of fanfic stories in which sex and humiliation (fuelled [sic] no doubt by fan boredom) [12] are the only possible outcome of such contrived and meaningless confrontations.
So what happens to culture when fanfic becomes the dominant economic model in publishing and the leader in cultural values – is that even possible? Surely derivative works have to be derived from something "original". With Fifty Shades this ceases to be the case, and, as we have seen, fanfic offers many tools for recycling (AU, crossover, mashup [13], self-insert, Mary Sue, the 12 varieties of slash [14] etc) which takes the recombination of texts into the exponential. It is possible that with the enchanted duplication systems [15] of fan-based epub, we might have arrived at a point in history where we've accumulated enough cultural material from the past for fans to remix indefinitely, and as they can now sell this content to each other this becomes a boom industry where none existed before. However, the point where fans become the creators, and a derivative work becomes the new original is also the point at which the culture industries stop needing to create anything new. Fanfic begets fanfic, which then in turn becomes mainstream which then begets further fanfic and so on. When we reach that point our future will not be fifty, but fifty thousand, shades of grey.

Some Comments at the Post

[DamienGWalter]:
Interesting. The history of fanfic here is...less than accurate. And fanfic as death of the original? All creativity is re-combinatorial. The concept of 'The Original' is a product of consumerism. You can't create a saleable commodity without it. I thought as a good Marxist you'd understand this Ewan? I think the real interest in fanfic though is its relationship to sex. Especially as the genres which give rise to most fanfic are essential desexed. That de-sexualisation is another artefact of commodification. Or was. The story of 50 Shades is the story of sex re-entering the commodity, but only in a degraded format.
[llincathrin]:
I do wonder whether it's worth even commenting, since in these sorts of articles the same misconceptions about fanfiction seem to constantly do the rounds, but, well, here goes anyway.

The first point is a semantic quibble, but it really gets on my nerves. 'Slash' does not refer to all pornographic fanfiction. There may have been a time when it did. Having spent ten years in fandom, I have never heard it used to describe anything but stories about m/m relationships. (A story does not actually have to have sexual content to be considered slash. A story can be slash without so much as a kiss if it involves a male character who is attracted to another male character.)

I'd also disagree that: There is a dark sexual undercurrent to the majority of fanfic, as if on a subconscious level the fan actually resents the control that their idol or idealised character has over their life. Certainly a lot of fanfiction is sexual in nature. But then, quite a bit of it is not. I don't understand why people are so fixated on the idea of fanfiction in particular being full of sex - have you looked at the rest of the popular media lately?

Plus that is the strangest idea I have ever heard about what motivates people to write fanfiction. People write fanfiction for all sorts of reasons - because they want to see more of the characters, because they enjoyed the source but felt it was somehow lacking or that the characters or stories they liked weren't fully explored, because they just like to read about their favourite characters having sex (and hey, why should that even be a problem?), because they have a point to make about their interpretation of the canon... the list goes on.

And yes, a lot of fanfiction is badly written, banal and derivative. But then, ninety per cent of everything is crap, and I think the top ten per cent of fanfiction stands up well in comparison to the top ten per cent of any other kind of literature.

[conanthebarbarian]:
Any genre with "fic" after it seems like "shi" to me. People make up their own stories about someone else's characters. Why don't they just create their own?

Originality will always trump more of the same.

[bananacake]:
This article is badly written, overly long and dubiously researched. Like a lot of fanfic.

Fanfic's a really interesting phenomenon worthy of critical attention, but this essay just doesn't cut it. And the pre-history of fanfic that you give is cringeworthy - the Stephron? really? honestly, does no-one sub these pieces?

[Dan Holloway]:
I still don't get a sense of what your opinion is of fanfic, Ewan, other than it seeming that you're somwewhat, er, a fan. I would have thought the fact that it is both free and becoming respectable would place it right in your line of sight.
[emma me]:
Fanfiction isn't given nearly enough dues here, though: firstly, yes, there is a painfully large amount of dross about, really, truly awful: but the same can be said of, for example, ff.net's sister site fictionpress, which is devoted to original fiction. Some of the fanfiction I've read is infinitely more publishable than the abomination that is Fifty Shades.

I also resent the fact that it's 50 Shades that's brought the concept of fanfiction to attention: after the dramatic fall in cool-rating of the vampires, I'm loathe to let anything else I love loose on the general public.

[yummyyummy999]:
Cracking article. Say what you like about fanfiction, it gets people writing - and EL has got people reading. Which is the best of the fifty shades copy cat books? I’m looking for something to read next. Just finished Katie Collins Can you Keep a secret, which was actually a true story but very similar to Fifty Shades, but I’ve no idea what to go onto next. Someone please tell me!
[RoseByAnyOtherName]:
Periodically someone in the mainstream media "discovers" fanfiction with a rather sensationalist and dubiously researched piece. I have studied fanfiction extensively at university and I'm a writer and reader of it, so maybe I have a different perspective. Unfortunately I don't have the time to properly critique this article, however I'd just like to point out that yes, there's a fair bit of sex, but it's not a dark undercurrent, only a very small percentage is just "porn without plot", so I wonder whether you just went looking for it and took it as representative. And yes most fanfiction is terrible, but so what? I think the more important point is that it's providing a space for people (especially young females) to express themselves in a way that subverts the mainstream culture of what they're "supposed" to like. On originality...well, is anything original anymore? Authors borrow, to greater and lesser extents, it's part of a storytelling tradition that has been going on since a long time before copyright!

And no, My Immortal isn't representative. Yes, a huge amount of it is crap, but I have read some truly excellent fanfiction that rivals many published books I've read. And even if 100% of it were totaly awful, I would still support it because it gives those who would normally never write a word a chance to express themselves, it allows people to continue to be a part of worlds that the end of a series otherwise would have ended completely, and it makes people happy - you'd have to come up with a pretty good reason to condemn that!

[Scurra]:
Whilst it is true that a lot of fanfic revolves around sex, that's true of much other fiction as well; it seems slightly unfair to single that aspect out for special treatment. And yes, I'm with emma_me: it's a real shame that it was 50 Shades that broke out of the "ghetto", because it is wildly unrepresentative of some of the genuine quality to be found. As noted, Sturgeon's Law (90% of everything is crap) applies - the 10% is really very good indeed.
[0800]:
Can't journalists just write about stuff like fanfic without putting it under an Armaggedon-esque headline that suggests it is going to destroy the world of publishing forever? Can't you just write about what fanfic is? Huh? Huh? Can't you just ... I don't know ... inform us rather than mislead us?
[PranksomeQuaine]:

Fanfic begets fanfic, which then in turn becomes mainstream which then begets further fanfic and so on. When we reach that point our future will not be fifty, but fifty thousand, shades of grey.

Some of us would differ with such a bleak outlook and suggest that we might be returning to the multi-authored, constantly retold and recreated realm of mythology. Indeed in this realm, the concept of author gets exposed for the conceit and selfishness that it is. Also, look at any mythology and you will find plenty of 'disturbing' (to use Ewan's word) subject matter, such as rape, incest and terrible things happening to children. Of course, stories are different from real life. I would have thought Ewan understood that.

[EllaLeigh]:
Caveat lector. This article is shoddily researched and does no credit to its writer nor to The Guardian.

Whatever one's feelings on fanfiction, it's a fascinating subject. Anyone who is hearing about it here for the first time and has had their attention piqued would do well to do some more reading before forming an opinon, however. I'd suggest looking at some of Henry Jenkins' work. Or even going to fanlore.org, a wiki kept by academics [16] who are also active fans working to document the history of fanfiction.

This may be an interesting introduction to fanfic for somebody new to the concept. To anyone already familiar with the culture, however, the errors, misapprehensions and simplifications are glaring and rather embarrassing.

[alfirin]:
This would be a good article, if it wasn't so full of errors, misapprehensions and poor attempts at pop-psychology.
[codoausderferne]:
I just wanted to say how much the Kirk and Spock thing made me want to spew.
[aflamingohalo]:
There is not a 'dark sexual undercurrent' to the majority of fanfic. There is a dark sexual undercurrent to some fanfic, but not all. If you go searching for the porn (as this article makes me suspect) then yes, that is what you will find but fanfic covers millions of stories and "authors". I doubt you've had the time to browse enough to be able to make that call.
[Psylocke]:
Please, like Hollywood hasn't been pumping out stolen, recycled, borrowed, unoriginal stories for years? The only reason fan fiction is getting singled out right now is because of the popularity of these books. I read fan fiction all of the time because there are shows and/or characters that I miss and aren't on the air anymore. Not all of the stories are sexual in nature. I don't understand why authors on FF.net are getting dogged on. Yes, there are a lot of awfully written stories on there, but every now and then I come across a diamond in the rough. FF.net is a great place for aspiring writers to become better by writing whatever they want while getting constructive criticism from readers to improve on their writing, that way some day maybe they will have the chance and talent to publish their own stories with their own characters. There is nothing wrong with it!
[pepperonilove]:
As a frequent reader of both fiction and fanfiction, I can ensure you...not all fanfiction are bad. Some of them are really well written stuff. And a great point was made - fanfiction is a good practice platform for aspiring writers.

Also, fellow fanfic readers and writers, RUN FOR THE HILLS!!! THE PUBLIC HAS DISCOVERED OUR SECRET!

[Jeopardy]:
Do your research before writing articles like this. It's actually quite embarrassing to read.
[Lokster]:
You could argue that new Doctor Who is fan fiction come full circle.

Classic Who goes off the television and is kept alive through Virgin's New Adventures & Big Finish (both of which you could argue are fan fiction just made official) & a number of new writer's come through that background to the new series.

Anyway it is a theory.

As others have noted whilst some fan fiction is dark, badly-written and verging on the incoherent (and is nothing but badly put together wish fulfillment) some of it isn't bad. There is also a hell of a lot of it, which means getting a proper line on it is pretty tough so this article isn't a bad intro to the subject.

[EllaLeigh]:
There's the Marion Zimmer Bradley myth, of course. The story that she was accused of stealing a fan's idea from a fic she read is resurrected every time their is a debate on the legality of fanfic. The story is entirely untrue.
[ AntoniaTiger]:
OK, I've written fanfics.

One thing I remember, they were far longer than anything I'd been expected to write at school. I was exploring my view of the situation and characters, who were the collective creation of a bunch of actors, writers, and directors.

Writing a fanfic of a book, of essentially a lone author's creation, that feels different to me.

And, back when I was writing, my stories never got published unless somebody liked it enough to do the work of getting it into physical print. I do feel that, unlike so much on the internet, my work had been tested.

As for the history recounted, no history is reality. Anyone who thinks fanfic is dragging down the quality of published fiction should consider the works of Bron Fane, Pel Torro, Dan Brown, and Lee Barton. And be wary of the connections between the science fiction fan, and fanzine, and professional writers. If you're in that community, there isn't the social divide between writer and non-writer. There is an on-going conversation about the ideas, and new novels build on what came before.

Sparkly Vampires? People try to explain that. One explanation has been Čerenkov radiation, and you really don't want to get close to that sort of Vampire.

When does that sort of conversation through literature become fanfic?

[Ascexis]:
Lev Grossman's article in Time was infinitely superior, not least because he came to fandom and asked questions instead of, as I gather Mr. Morrison has, going to fanfiction.net and sorting it to get numbers, and dipping in and out of random stories looking for (and doubtless finding) material to support his thesis, whatever that might be.

He does not appear to have done any serious research on this at all. It's not clear what his overall thesis is, though the inchoate horror at the thought of women having a thriving culture of storytelling that sometimes includes explicit, or non-heterosexual or non-vanilla content appears to be a big concern for him.

Ironically enough, the article as a whole does little more than rehash old stale tropes and stereotypes about fandom and fannish writing, providing no new insights or knowledge, just regurgitating the old style anti-fanfic nonsense fandom has seen so often before.

Perhaps Mr Morrison should stop writing derivative fiction, and come up with something original?

[daisyr]:
Off the top of my head - since I don't want to google this on my tea-break - the first slash story was certainly not "Rings of Soshern", which wasn't published till the late 80s (it was circulated before then, but so were plenty of other stories, and even allowing for it being written much earlier I think Leslie Fish's Shelter still predates it). Any of the citations on the Fanlore page linked give a more accurate version of early K/S.
[ jglitter]:
This article makes me so angry. The author is a complete outsider and completely misses the point of fanfic--the sheer joy of discovering and sharing and understanding a work, developing one's skills as a writer and communicator within a community, and views it instead as some kind of selfish, sub-par masturbation. That's not been my experience of it at all; fanfic is enriching, it's collaborative, it's frequently wonderfully written.

Try reading the Paradox series by wordstrings. Try reading Rat's Alley by Fabula Rasa. Try Ivy Blossom's The Progress of Sherlock Holmes. And if you can't see the sheer craft and brilliance of those works despite the borrowed characters, then seriously, fuck you.

[pickwicklet]:
A lot of the anti-fanfiction arguments seem to come down to the same thing as a lot of the anti-gay "arguments" - basically "I think it's icky". Nobody's forcing you to like or read or watch fanfic, but for heaven's sake stop trying to bring in arguments about quality, or respectability, or originality - it's getting dull watching them be shot down again and again and again.

Tell you what was a great recent example of crossover fanfic? The Olympic Opening Ceremony. Multi-crossover historical RPF songfic.

[RO42]:
I think what the damaging thing is here, and this may well be coming at it completely the wrong way, is how fandom firstly encourages people to define themselves by the fictions they like (and encourages ridiculous granularity within genres) and secondly encourages noncritical consumption; things become good because they are part of a fandom on the majority of online communities.
[IPaton]:
This is a good article, full of fascinating observations and a wonderful tour of the fan-fiction and mythos-continuation worlds. However, there are two points of contention.

Firstly, is EL James an author? I partly agree with the analysis that she isn’t, as she has used someone else’s creation. However, she has written thousands of words, in the same way that many others do in works of imitation, of various qualities and degrees of originality. Some of these add to our culture; not really in the case of James, as her writing is pretty poor indeed. We could also ponder the question of "what is derivative?"... most things are at this stage in history, but that is a different question.

Also, the finger is pointed at Kindle. However, it isn’t Kindle that launched Fifty Shades into every bookshop in the world with a parallel Kindle resurgence: it was the bottom-chasing print-publishing industry, in this case Random House/Bertelsmann. 50 Shades could have survived as popular derivative ebook erotica. Now we will see a splurge of imitations of this imitation, crowding bookshops in the same way that “dark fantasy” did in the wake of the Twilight books.

Incidentally, surely the Gospels are histories rather than fan-fiction?

[greedydancer]:
Who said fanfic is "superior to published literature"? I feel like people who are defending fanfic don't make the point that it's better than published fiction, just that it's 1) different and 2) diverse, and thus can actually be just as bad as some published fiction, and sometimes just as good as published fiction.

But ultimately, fanfic and published works are not in direct competitions, nor did fanfic authors communally set out to take over or destroy the world of published fiction. For the immense majority of us, fanfic is a hobby, not a career plan - and some fanfic authors who do go on to become successful published authors keep writing fanfic in their spare time because it's FUN, because of the sense of community and immediate feedback and the joy of creating things for free for other fans, because these other fans GET IT and give back in a great feedback loop of appreciation for the inspiring work. Fanfiction is a discussion in a community context - and maybe in that respect it is different from published literature. Not superior, just different. And articles like these that pit fanfic against the mainstream publishing industry invariably fail to understand that.

Fanfic is, by definition, FOR FANS. What does it matter that non-fans won't enjoy it? Of course they don't, why should they? Is anyone trying to force them to?
[ellex42]:
Mr Morrison has managed to find hentai fanfic - which is not actually all that common - but seems to have completely overlooked the enormous "Gen" category, which typically contains no sexual content at all. In fact, throughout this biased and poorly researched article, Mr Morrison seems rather obsessed with the sexual aspects of fanfiction. I also note that nearly all the links to works of fanfiction are to some of the worst examples of each genre. If Mr Morrison had made any kind of real, unbiased effort in researching this article, he would have found many examples of fanfiction that is nearly indistinguishable from the original; fanfiction that is better than the original; and fanfiction that adds immeasurable and extraordinary depth to the original. Frankly, I have to question his motives in writing this article, which feels like a poorly disguised diatribe against fanfic.
[theslaingod]:
We've taken something packaged and sold to us, and reinterpreted it to suit ourselves, and shared the result with each other. Why shouldn't we? If you sell me a copy of Cosmopolitan, I can cut it up and make a collage criticising Cosmopolitan's representation of women. Or I can cut out Kate Moss and Kim Kardashian and make their photos kiss.

A lot of the pushback against fanfiction seems to be shock at the idea the audience isn't a passive consumer. Good for the audience, I say. This is especially important if you're in a demographic which is rarely catered to by mainstream publishing. No gay cop procedurals? Fine, I'll take Starsky and Hutch, oh, and due South. Not enough romantic comedies with badass Asian men falling for competent black women? Cool, I'm going to write a Sulu/Uhura Star Trek fanfic with a similar plot to The Wedding Singer. No novels set in fantasy worlds loosely based on the Mayan Empire only with same-sex marriage and gender equality? Well, I could make an original work, but that would have a limited audience, whereas if I make it an X-Men AU, a whole bunch of X-Men fans will be interested, and maybe they'll like the ideas enough to write their own Mayan Empire AU! Maybe it'll catch on, and become a pan-fandom fashion, and I'll be rolling in gay Mayan Empire stories. Score.

Some Comments Elsewhere

From a Discussion at "The Passive Voice: A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing"

[Adam Gulledge]:
I have to agree with this guy. Especially seeing as what people go to Fifty Shades for: The BDSM/porn. So, yes, the perverse/derivative version is getting more popular, and it’s badly written/researched to boot.

“JK Rowling also encourages fanfic. In 2003 she said she was “flattered people wanted to write their own stories” based on her characters. She did however stipulate one condition – that they did not try to make money from their creations.”

And then this segment in Prisoner of copyright. Since those characters belong to someone else, even if you disguise them or rename them, they still belong to someone else. You shouldn’t be allowed to make money off of that.[17]
[Dan DeWitt]:
There’s a huge difference between commercial and non-commercial fanfic. Unsurprisingly, Morrison fails to make that distinction. He’s just rabidly anti-fanfic, in all its forms.[18]
[MrEwanMorrison -- author of the original article]:
why don’t you actually read the article.I’m not rabidly against anything. [19]
[Dan DeWitt]:
I did read the whole article, and while you didn’t come out and say “I HATE FANFIC!” it sure read that way. If I’m mistaken, my bad. I don’t think I am, though; I think you were just beating around the bush. However … to say you’re not rabidly anti-anything is a joke, because you despise self-publishing. Feel free to deny that, so I can link you to your own ill-informed articles.[20]
[Jeremy]:
The only thing more derivative than fanfic is a blog post complaining about how derivative fanfic is....

The only thing less useful than 50 shades are the authors and aspiring authors who whine about how bad it is and is the end of culture.

McDonald’s are horrendous burgers, Cheetos are an offense against food. Yet people buy them, like them, and there’s still a market for haute cuisine.

Stop hating the player and the game and work on your own game.[21]
[Jamie]:
Fan fiction isn’t new, I remember reading an annotated Quixote and the translators took note that Cervantes constantly had to point out that those “other versions” weren’t genuine. Amusingly (but typical for him), Cervantes has fourth-wall type allusions to this within story.

I don’t “get” the point of fan fiction because of the way I’m wired; I just don’t derive satisfaction that way. I keep thinking that since those stories aren’t canon they’re not relevant; I only want to know what the author writes about those characters. It’s only a problem, though, when 1) It’s written to profit at the true author’s expense (like Quixote) 2) The author never intended to “share” the universe. So I despise the fact that V.C. Andrews’ people decided to continue trading off her name, and I ignore all of the Dune novels not written by Frank Herbert. Write your own stories! Fan fiction can be good training wheels for beginners, but beyond that point, why aren’t you developing your own stories? It’s just like the new music “artists” who only cover other people’s songs, and sample other people’s music. They can’t write their own songs and tracks? It’s like admitting their skills and talents are limited.

On the other hand, David Weber and Lovecraft both wanted other people to write about their characters and universes. So that’s fine. Shoot, that kind of fan fiction can be a profitable way to get started, and it’s more honorable. Win.[22]
[MrEwanMorrison -- author of the original article]:
By crude editing you have misquoted me and made it seem that the value judgement within my opening paragraph is mine – and this is why blogs get a bad name – for distorting the truth. My real statement reads thus:

It may seem like a joke, but for many the rise of fanfic is “the end of the world”. Fanfic is seen as the lowest point we’ve reached in the history of culture – it’s crass, sycophantic, celebrity-obsessed, naive, badly written, derivative, consumerist, unoriginal – anti-original. From this perspective it’s a disaster when a work of fanfic becomes the world’s number one bestseller and kickstarts a global trend.

Why not post your comments on the Guardian page and have some more exacting standards of reportage. I’d welcome it. Oh and thanks for calling me a wassock: A Gullible fool, or Village Idiot, with elements of pomposity.[23]
[Seely James]:
What’s the big deal? Take out “celebrity obsessed” and “badly written” and you could be talking about the hot dog vendor on the corner. People make money by serving the public. I don’t eat hot dogs for a variety of reasons, but I don’t begrudge the vendor his right to make a living at it.[24]
[James]:
I never understood what the big hullaboo about fanfic is.

““Fanfic is seen as the lowest point we’ve reached in the history of culture – it’s crass, sycophantic, celebrity-obsessed, naive, badly written, derivative, consumerist, unoriginal – anti-original.”

Can you show me one plot or story in the last three thousand years that is completely original?

And all the other complaints- badly written, consumerist etc apply equally well to normal books.

There has been a lot of bashing of 50 shades of grey. But was Twilight original? A teenager falls in love with a vampire. Yup, how original. How dare that 50 shades woman copy anything from that?

I think most writers who moan about fanfic have an over exaggerated opinion of their own work. They fail to realise that they themselves have borrowed from other writers and movies.

Its like “I will borrow from others, but you better not touch my stuff. Me! me! me!”[25]
[Randall Wood]:
I see two things happening here.

The first is a discussion on the merits of fan fiction, which is fine I guess. Personally I don’t care for it. Many of the stories I wrote in high school could now be classified as such. I still have them. Would I publish them now? No. Not just because they’re bad (they are), but simply because they aren’t my characters. I didn’t make any profit on them then, and I don’t feel I deserve to now. I view those stories as I classify most fan-fiction today, as practice.

The other item is the real reason for this article in the first place. While I find myself agreeing with some of what Mr. Morrison writes, the majority of the time I don’t. His written opinions don’t strike me as an honest attempt to convince me of his personal views so much as they serve to add to his own fire. The writing seems slanted toward touching a nerve and throwing more gas on a fire that’s of his own making. He fans the flames further by visiting TPW and basically looking for a fight (which we unfortunately respond to).

With The Guardian Mr. Morrison has a soapbox that few others have, and with the topic of self-publishing he’s found a pot he can easily stir. At this point I can’t help but wonder if he actually believes the things he writes or if this is all just some way to promote everything Ewan Morrison.

That said, I’d like to see Mr. Morrison debate more and proclaim less. To try to convince me of his argument with logic and evidence, and if it’s not too much trouble, tell us To What End he is writing these articles.

While he has a right to his opinion, no person, in any profession, has convinced me of anything by insulting me first.[26]
[Cally Phillips]:
I agree wholeheartedly with the above statement which brings reason and politeness back to the fore. IMHO the answer is MONEY and SELF PROMOTION. And I’m not imputing any moral judgement into that view, just saying it’s the conclusion I draw from what I read from MR Ewan Morrison. [27]
[Christian K]:

I skimmed the article and after the 5th or so factual error I just read it for laughs. It’s a poorly researched trolling for attention. From listing Het pairings when discussing slash, to misquoting authors’ positions on fanfic. Even nit picky things like stating The Ring of Soshern as “The first” slash fanfic and citing a source that says “one of the earliest”. Totally nit picky on my part, but I do think it’s an example of sloppy work.

On to his point, tho I really didn’t get much of a point to the whole thing other than a vaguely homophobic, misogynistic, revisionist history of fan fiction. I honestly don’t think it was intended to be more than that. Just offensive enough to tweak the community without saying anything actually offensive.

I don’t like 50 Shades of Grey. Not because it’s kinky erotica, I like kinky things, and erotica, and particularly kinky erotica. Not because of rumors it’s of questionable quality, I haven’t read the published version, nor would I care to. Not because Meyers should have sued James for copyright infringement, while it would have been amusing, and an unfortunate precedent, to see Meyers lose, the point isn’t that James stole from Meyers but that she broke the fan fiction social contract.

For fan fiction to “work” it needs to be a to be a community of peers sharing stories and their love of fandoms. It needs to be slighly closed, public in a very private way. When James “filed the serial numbers off” of MOTU she did it poorly, and was quite public about the source of 50 Shades. She didn’t credit the fans who helped her, fans she borrowed from.

Most fanfic people don’t mind if a fanfic author files the serial numbers off and take their work over to Carina or MLR. Typically they are happy for the author and will go buy their book to show support (and to see its latest incarnation). I have seen very little angst over the publication of 50 shades, most are happy for James, and are quitely digging through files looking for stories that CAN be filed into original-ish work.

Fan fiction is very personal for me. I am almost more a fan of fan fiction than of any particular fandom. When I think of the community I get the same feeling I get when an author’s work has meant very much to me ( I am sure you know that feeling). My start with fan fiction in the late 90’s was primarily one of taste. Prior to the late 2000’s it was extremely difficult to find upbeat gay fiction that was actually interesting. Sure there were wonderful tearjerkers filled with alcoholic attorneys, assassinated Olympians, or mages that were abused and raped. Wonderful, super fun stuff!! I cannot recall any particular rom-coms, tho I am sure they did exist.

Seeing and reading about happy gay folks, or the raw angst of the barely open closet, I know how very important it is that fan fiction, a point that Mr. Morrison (an most authors) seem to miss. [28]

From "Sex, Desire and Fan Fiction"

Excerpts from an article in "HuffPost":

Browsing through the Guardian today, I came across this article by Ewan Morrison on the history and popularity of fan fiction, with eventual, inevitable reference to Fifty Shades of Grey. The essay is something of a hodgepodge, to say the least, containing multiple glaring inaccuracies (slashfic, for instance, is rather restrictively called a “sub-genre in which buddies from classic TV become gay lovers,” while the origin of the Mary Sue moniker manages, rather bizarrely, to get the name of the titular character wrong — Morrison has her named after the author, Paula Smith, instead of, as one might reasonably infer from the trope itself, Mary Sue) and dabbling in outright negative bias, with crossover fics and mashups described as being “aesthetically bankrupt,” consisting of “convoluted, meaningless mergings” that lead to “an incomprehensible mess.”
Now: while I could easily spend a few thousand words doing a line-for-line crit and debunk of Morrison’s piece, pointing out the mistakes he’s made, the problematic nature of his biases and all the relevant questions he’s managed to ignore or elide — such as whether or not the constant mainstream rebooting, reappropriating and remixing of old stories and franchises actually counts as a form of fan fiction in itself, as per the latest James Bond films, TV series like Once Upon A Time, graphic novels like Bill Willingham’s Fables, Gregory Maguire’s Wicked and every recent incarnation of Sherlock Holmes — what I really want to talk about is sex. Because while an undeniably massive proportion of fan fic deals with romance, relationships, non-canonical or otherwise impossible pairings and — yes — spectacularly detailed pornography, the titillating novelty of this fact is such that few people often bother to stop and ask why this is. And right now, that seems like a much more interesting question than whether or not Ewan Morrison actually knows what he’s talking about.

References

  1. He probably means "Fair Use."
  2. ACTUALLY, the character's name wasn't Paula. It was MARY SUE, hence the trope.
  3. ACTUALLY, fanfic as this author is referencing didn't begin until the very late 1960s with the advent of Star Trek and Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  4. ACTUALLY, this is untrue. Ring of Soshern was a pass around story until it was published without permission in the zine Alien Brothers in 1987.
  5. ACTUALLY, it's about 40 pages. It's possible there was a 105-page version of the pass around story, but that's a pretty big difference in pagination.
  6. ACTUALLY, 1968 is only a guess. It was much more likely to have been in the very early 1970s.
  7. ACTUALLY, "deserted" implies the inhabitants have left. This is not the case in the "Ring of Soshern" which has wild animals and hairy humanoids that have apparently lived there all along.
  8. ACTUALLY, it's spelled Pon Farr
  9. This quote is from a chapter by Constance Penley in "Visual Culture: Images and Interpretations" and not properly cited by the author of this article.
  10. ACTUALLY, this is some major psychoanalyzing without basis.
  11. ACTUALLY, this is spelled wrong two different ways.
  12. ACTUALLY, this would be pure speculation.
  13. The author probably means fusion.
  14. ACTUALLY, there are far more than twelve!
  15. This is a reference to The Enchanted Duplicator.
  16. It is "kept" by fans, some of whom may be academics, many who are not.
  17. Ewan Morrison Strikes Fan Fiction Down!, Archived version
  18. Ewan Morrison Strikes Fan Fiction Down!, Archived version
  19. Ewan Morrison Strikes Fan Fiction Down!, Archived version
  20. Ewan Morrison Strikes Fan Fiction Down!, Archived version
  21. Ewan Morrison Strikes Fan Fiction Down!, Archived version
  22. Ewan Morrison Strikes Fan Fiction Down!, Archived version
  23. Ewan Morrison Strikes Fan Fiction Down!, Archived version
  24. Ewan Morrison Strikes Fan Fiction Down!, Archived version
  25. Ewan Morrison Strikes Fan Fiction Down!, Archived version
  26. Ewan Morrison Strikes Fan Fiction Down!, Archived version
  27. Ewan Morrison Strikes Fan Fiction Down!, Archived version
  28. Ewan Morrison Strikes Fan Fiction Down!, Archived version